In recent years, with younger and educated Indian audiences gaining access to OTT platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video, and Hotstar, content creators have had a whole new opportunity to create fresh, modern content around feminism and gender equality without getting in the way of the mass-appeasing saas-bahu television serials (yes, those still exist). One show that chose to go against the grain and not play it safe just to appease audiences is ‘Bombay Begums’ – a story of desire and aspiration. The series features parallel stories of five women of different ages (13 to 49), from different social classes and in different stages of their lives, each one fighting to either fit in or stand out in a less-than-perfect society.
What makes ‘Bombay Begums’ exceptional?
None of the leading characters are perfect or even close to it.
They are quite the opposite. ‘Bombay Begums’ does not try to show you an ideal woman, it shows you a real woman. Real women who make mistakes. Real women who can be selfish in some situations and caring in others. Real women who put each other down for their own survival instead of uplifting each other in a world dominated by men.
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This show brings a fresh perspective on womanhood and does so tastefully.
As natural and basic as menstruation, menopause, and sexuality are to every woman on this planet, Indian content creators for the most part still shy away from these topics. Alankrita Shrivastava does not hesitate to show this natural side of her begums.
A 13-year-old girl approaching puberty is eager to grow up and be liked by boys, and can’t wait to start wearing a bra or get her period. How she makes a serious effort to fake her first period by staining her school uniform with red paint is, in my opinion, radical for Indian cinema. Some of you are probably cringing while reading this. I would too. But the show portrays this so tastefully, I couldn’t help but admire the writing and direction of this sub-plot.
A 49-year-old CEO of a bank starts experiencing menopausal symptoms and is in complete denial of it. She gets hot flushes throughout the day and turns up the air conditioning without even realizing she’s the only one feeling hot. Sound familiar? We all know of at least one person who has or is going through this, be it a relative, friend, or ourselves. Yet we see so little mention of this in mainstream entertainment. ‘Bombay Begums’ changes that by unapologetically and tastefully showing this natural transition that practically every woman goes through.
The male characters are shown in a new light.
A man in his 30s, supportive of his wife who is his boss at work and more successful than him, is a pleasant balance of pride and sensitivity. On one hand, he tells his wife to not interfere in his career when she tries to help him. On the other hand, you see him cry like a baby when his wife has a miscarriage, knowing that they can never have a child of their own.
A middle-aged man in his second marriage loves his current wife but cannot seem to let go of his dead first wife’s memories. Knowing very well that this has caused a rift in his second marriage, he doesn’t stop his wife from being with another man even though it hurts him.
Both these characters are atypical and play a significant part in what makes this show progressive and revolutionary.
‘Bombay Begums’ has been out on Netflix for two weeks and has stirred up a lot of controversy around some scenes showing teenagers doing drugs. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has ordered Netflix to stop streaming the show claiming that such scenes normalize the use of drugs by children. While I am glad the organization is looking out for children’s rights, the premise creates a much-needed awareness and parents should have control of what their underage and impressionable children watch.
While ‘Bombay Begums’ may receive different reactions and may not be liked by all equally, I do believe it is a step in the right direction of making tasteful content about women that is unbiased, real, and relatable.
Consultant by day and professional dancer on weekends, Neha loves going to the movies and has a not-so-secret crush on Hrithik Roshan!